Music lovers: do you hear these?

Listening to some pop music in the car the other day, one particular part of several songs seemed to jump out at me. I was wondering if these are a part of music that today’s highly processed recording studios deal with or change regularly, or if it’s not something that’s typically engineered out (or not) yet.

Breath sounds.

Seriously. I’m not sure what specifically got me listening to them, but once I started hearing them clearly, I couldn’t stop. Then I couldn’t stop listening to new songs, trying to see if they had left vocalist’s breath sounds on the tracks or not. It was interesting seeing in how some cases the extra intake of breath – perhaps in the middle of a big belted out chorus – really added to the realism of the singing. And careful listening showed that some vocalists have very clear singing styles – you can almost picture what they look like when singing the end of a phrase from listening to how their voice and breath changes.

Is this something that music studios and engineers regularly process out (or not, or change subtly perhaps) these days? Or have the amazing audio processing tools not made it to the point where it’s a simple click of a button to say yes or no to the sound of vocalists inbreaths? Semi-pro recorders seem to have some tools, but they’re certainly not completely automated.

I was also surprised where I did – or did not – hear breath sounds. Call Me Maybe – certainly a highly-produced and engineered track! – seems to have left them all in, without apparent modification. A couple of other highly-produced tracks left them in, in one case distractingly so (well, perhaps that was because I was focusing on them). But another, less “pop” and presumably less produced/engineered track had clearly taken them out. That, or the vocalist was very careful with a good studio mic to keep their breathing sounds below levels.

I was just wondering: with today’s computing power and highly produced or over-produced songs – who can do things far beyond Auto-Tune with the click of a mouse – is analysis of how breath sounds affect the track something they do all the time now, or is it still a rarely changed bit of sound?

What do you think?